Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Almost 3 Decades Ago, I Wrote Myself a Check For $1 Million, When I Had Nothing. Here's Why.

It reminds me that I can depend on myself to pull through, no matter how hard things get.

This story appears in the September 2022 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In the fall of 1995, I wrote myself a check for $1 million.

Courtesy of Rex Kurzius

I didn't have the money — not even close. But in a moment of desperation, I needed something to work toward. And it worked.

Here's what led to that moment.

My father unexpectedly passed away when I was 10, and I grew up poor. I went to community college and then earned an academic scholarship to Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business in Dallas, where I needed to keep my grades up to keep the scholarship. That was difficult, because at the same time, I was a newlywed and working after school to pay the bills.

Every day at college, I carried a bag with my bright pink-and-blue waiter's uniform inside. Then I'd change into the uniform in the afternoon and try to avoid my peers as I walked to my car. It was embarrassing, but I knew that was just how it had to be.

Related: It Felt Impossible to Leave a 'Dream Job' With Guaranteed Retirement and Lifetime Medical Plan. Then I Realized How Much I'd Regret Staying.

By November 1995, the full course load and full-time work schedule left me physically and mentally drained. One night, I came home from work late and reached my breaking point. I had class in just a few hours and still needed to prepare, despite desperately needing a few hours of sleep. I sat on the floor of my apartment and sobbed.

Then I had an idea. With tears in my eyes, I got up and wrote myself a check for $1 million. I told myself that I would cash that check for the full amount three years after graduation — in 1999. At the time, I usually had so little money in my checking account I never knew if I would have enough to withdraw $40 from the ATM.

Fast-forward to 1996. I had graduated from SMU, and within three years, I was building the first of several companies I would launch and sell over the next few decades. The value of those businesses exceeded that of the check.

I never cashed it. Instead, I keep it as a reminder that I can get through it, no matter how tough things get.

Related: I Was a Refugee From Post-WWII Europe. Today, My Green Card Reminds Me That My Success Was Never Guaranteed.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks